Do fitness trackers and apps work? It depends on you – Digital Journal

The study shows there are benefits in relation to both fitness trackers and apps, which are becoming increasingly popular in terms of market growth. However, the extent to which these benefits are realized depends on the motivation of the user and the degree to which customization of the device is undertaken. The research has been undertaken by Virginia Tech scientist Professor Tabitha James. She has found that fitness trackers and apps can contribute to well-being but thus very much depends on how they are used. In essence, different people will benefit from using fitness technologies in the different ways. James’ research focus is on the psychological effects of technology on users. In particular, she is interested in how technology can influence human actions and interactions. One application of technology that has flooded the market in the past few years is fitness devices and related applications. While these devices sell in vast numbers, are they altering the way we behave? There are features with apps and trackers that do not, in the long-term, appear to work. These include control features such as reward badges or reminders take more steps. These features, no matter how innovative the graphic, do not appear to be the most effective features and do not particularly enhance motivation. The use of features like leaderboards and other rankings only appeal to a narrow group of people. James also found that many features that come with devices are not widely used, such as data management functions. Commenting on this, James said: “Prior research suggests that competence-supporting feedback, which the data management features could provide, should enhance intrinsic motivation, and so the expectation was that they would appeal to the more self-determined exercisers.” According to James: “Intrinsic motivation is when you exercise because you enjoy it. Extrinsic motivation is when you exercise because you are responding to external pressure.” The key message from the study was that “People with different motivations toward exercise used different features of fitness technologies.” This means that users should customize their use of the devices and apps to suit their personal characteristics rather than just use them out-of-the-box. James’ research can also help manufacturers of fitness devices to understand how to better develop their fitness technologies or to create new customize usage ideas for different people in terms of exercise motivation. This requires an appreciation that some people are more likely to be motivated by extrinsic factors and others by intrinsic factors. The research has been published in the journal MIS Quarterly, with the research paper titled “Using Organismic Integration Theory to Explore the Associations Between Users’ Exercise Motivations and Fitness Technology Feature Set Use.”
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